Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Clan of the Cave Bear

by Jean M. Auel


Although The Clan of the Cave Bear is hard to categorise, it has many elements that will appeal to lovers of fantasy. It's set in a far simpler time, back when two races of mankind shared the earth. We meet Ayla at the age of five, when an earthquake kills the rest of her family. She is attacked by a cave lion and she seems to be about to succumb to her wound when she is found by a group of Neanderthals.

Occasional natural disasters aside, you might think that very little happens in the lives of these prehistoric people. But there are plenty of events and ceremonies to sustain our interest throughout the story. Jean M. Auel begins at a leisurely and descriptive pace, but in almost 600 words she encompasses some very eventful years for the clan and the further one reads the livelier and more compelling the story becomes.

Ayla survives the cave lion's attack and is nursed to health by Iza, the Clan's medicine woman. They are searching for a new cave. Events conspire so that Ayla comes to be regarded as some sort of lucky charm by some of the clan members. The first description of these Neanderthals is more suggestive of our primate cousins than homo sapiens sapiens. But the author then goes on to describe their very rich spiritual life. This is led by Creb, the group's holy man or Mog - ur.

The Mog - ur is deformed but greatly respected, and it is under his protection that Ayla thrives. But she soon makes an implacable enemy of Broud, the son of the chief and heir apparent. She is different, and the clan's customs do not come as second nature to her. Not least, the female's unquestioning subservience to the men of the clan is difficult for her.

I don't know whether Neanderthals really did have a patriarchal society, but this is a very pro-feminist story. It is the past seen through a late twentieth-century lens. First published in 1980, this is a book of its time, a period when women's issues were of primary concern.

On the whole the story seems to be very well researched, from the description of a mammoth hunt to the details of the clothes they wore and the food they ate. There is one glaring piece of fantasy amongst the authentic setting: with the use of datura, the clan are able to go into a collective trance and access the memories of their ancestors as well as their own. With small frontal lobes and large brains, it is reasonable to assume that Neanderthals relied on memory more than modern humans do. But knowing past, and even future memories breaks the sense of realism that would have been built up if you were to discount their spiritual beliefs as mere tribal superstition. The element of magic would have been better if it had been introduced as real at the beginning rather than quite a way in, so the reader has a handle on when to suspend disbelief and what to treat with scepticism.

Clan of the Cave Bear is the first of a planned series of six books. The author has clearly taken her time crafting the Earth's Children series. This book finishes with the promise of more to come in the ongoing epic. It's long, escapist, and about as far from the modern world as you could hope. It allows the reader to have one-up on the protagonists because their levels of technology and knowledge of the world was so inferior to our own. It demands emotional involvement rather than powers of deductive thinking. If you fancy reading a deep, involved saga that is different from the usual genres, and you have plenty of time on your hands, this would be a good choice.

Book Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

If you like this, try:

Evolution cover    

Evolution by Stephen Baxter
This is the epic story of the primates, as they evolve from tiny mammals into the humans who would shape and dominate the world, and beyond.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


mona     9th December, 2004 07:12am

This book is a wonderfull escape from every day life. It takes us to a time when life is not clouded this smog and plastic. I will resd them all over agen when the last book comes out.

Jo-Anne Cook     19th July, 2005 17:52pm

WOW !! This is the most interesting book I have ever read. I can't wait to start the next book. It is a book that I didn't want to put down. It is the way I could see history being played out and the way women had to listen to men. It made me feel that we were nothing but slaves to the men and most times not respected. I am going to try to watch the movie of the "CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR", because it kept me very interested to read this full volumn and not get board with it.
Thanks Jean M. Auel for such an interesting book. My neice and my sister have read all your five books, and passed them to me, and they await your 6th book. GOD BLESS YOU...

Nicole     6th August, 2005 14:45pm

Was a book written to follow-on from Clan of the Cave Bear?

Ros     7th August, 2005 01:29am

The Earth's Children series is quite long, and continues with:

The Valley of the Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone

jason     26th August, 2005 19:59pm

as a male reader i have to say it is one of the best series of books ive ever read/reread etc.
dont care that the lead character is female, dont have hangups 'bout that kind of thing.
do like similes between modern races and the closer/more similar people are the more they distrust or dislike each other

Kathryn     11th April, 2006 22:23pm

Many people have said that this book was to much of a pro-feminist book. I disagree. the Author did a lot of research. men did take advantage of woman. that is just how it was at that time in history.

Randolph Spritzenberger     20th March, 2011 12:28pm

Mindbogglingly boring.

Helen "Alwayshelen" Sanders     8th December, 2011 21:10pm

I have enjoyed reading and rereading this series. As a student of History and Archaeology I am amazed to find so much info coming out of her books and even though her characters are a work of fiction - how true she follows what has occured in time. I thank her for writting this series and hope she will endeavor to write another.